The Straits Times recently reported in Is that really extra-virgin olive oil in the bottle? that our consumer watchdog CASE has asked supermarkets to check on the quality of the extra virgin olive oil on their shelves.
This request was triggered by complaints in Europe over using low quality virgin olive oil and passing it off as higher quality extra virgin olive oil. What is shocking is that the brands implicated in the allegation actually include some of the most popular and commonly found brands.
Are we really paying for extra virgin olive oil? An article that appeared in The Straits Times offers 7 things to look out for, but here, we present our 7 practical tips to help you choose and buy good quality extra virgin olive oil.
Olive oil is a major component in the Mediterranean diet and has been widely considered to be one of the world’s healthiest foods – proven over centuries, and by hundreds of scientific studies over a span of sixty years or so.
Extra virgin olive oil is commonly known to be the juice of the olive fruit – 100% natural, essentially “fresh squeezed” from the olive fruit, and contains important phytonutrients that our body needs each day – antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.
Research studies have shown that extra virgin olive oil can help to:
- Reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease,
- Lower heart disease risk,
- Lower cancer risk,
- Reduce the risk of Type II diabetes,
- Help prevent strokes,
- Fight osteoporosis,
- May protect from depression,
- Effective in lowering high blood pressure,
- Decrease blood coagulation, and
- Decrease inflammation.
This makes extra virgin olive oil very different from vegetable and seed oils or refined olive oil, which is typically labelled as “Pure Olive Oil”, “Extra Light” and “Olive Pomace Oil.”
These oils have lost the phytonutrients through the refining process where extreme high heat and chemical are used.
According to Tom Mueller, an investigative journalist who wrote the book entitled, Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, a substantial number of extra virgin olive oil sold in the world does not meet the taste and smell test.
Noted. We now know there are adulterated extra virgin olive oils. But a more important question is: How then should we base on to buy great extra virgin olive oil?
Here we offer 7 tips.
TIP #1 – Look for the Harvest Date, Best Before Date & Estate Name
Unlike wine, extra virgin olive oil does not improve with age.
Read the label for the harvest date and make sure you buy extra virgin olive oil with a best before date that is within two years period.
When we see the phrase, “Packed In” on the label, be careful. Or phrases like, “Product contains selected high quality of olive oils from the countries …” or “Blend of olive oils of European Union origin,” look further and beyond the bottle you are holding.
What these phrases mean is that the olive oil is neither made in nor contains olives of the said country.
Generally, avoid olive oils that do not specify the estate name on the label or on the product web page, regardless of whether we recognise the name or not – having the name on the label is a sign of quality.
TIP #2 – Check for the Quality Seal of Approval
Products with DOP (Denominación de Origen Protegida or in English Protected Denomination of Origin PDO) certification should inspire higher confidence.
DOP certifies extra virgin olive oil for its quality and origin. The origin requirement stipulates that the olives and olive oils must be produced, processed and prepared exclusively in that region.
Quality seal programs are backed with taste and smell (sensory) tests and chemical quality standards. It is difficult to obtain a DOP certification.
Buy extra virgin olive oil that has a seal of approval from DOP.
TIP #3 – Choose the Award-Winners
Extra virgin olive oils that scored well in recent, reputable international olive oil competitions are often a good indicator of high quality because they have been judged and endorsed by a panel of olive oil Master Tasters to be superior in their sensory taste.
Choose the award-winning extra virgin olive oils, which have won awards in the current year of harvest.
TIP #4 – Read the Chemical Quality Parameters
Chemical quality parameters are a set of lab analysis test results which objectively present the quality of the extra virgin olive oil.
What are these chemical quality parameters?
- Free Fatty Acid (FFA) or simply Acidity is a general measurement of olive oil quality. The higher the FFA, i.e. greater than 0.5% but less than 0.8%, the higher the probability of having taste defects. A low FFA does not guarantee high quality, but a high FFA almost always means poor extra virgin olive oil. Low acidity also indicates good phenolic content in an extra virgin olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil with low FFA will smoke at a higher temperature (between 190-215°C), and more stable for high heat cooking.
- Peroxide Value (PV) measures the amount of primary oxidation in the oil. High values are caused by improper handling of the olive fruit or olive paste. The PV set by the International Olive Council for the extra virgin olive oil is less than 20 meq O2/kg.
- Ultraviolet Absorption (K270) is a secondary measurement of rancidity in oil. A high absorption value indicates that the olive oil lacks freshness and has oxidised and/or is a poor quality olive oil, possible refining and/or adulteration with refined oil. The standard is K270 ≤ 0.22.
- Wax Content is an indicator of the level of adulteration with pomace oil, because pomace contains a greater proportion of fruit skin where most of the waxes originate. The International Olives Council limit for extra virgin olive oil is less than 250 mg/kg.
TIP #5 – Test the Sensory Quality
The sensory components of olive oil are:
Before you purchase an extra virgin olive oil, try to ask for a chance to smell the aroma and taste the extra virgin olive oil.
During olive oil tasting, we should look for the absence of defects, seek out freshness in the extra virgin olive oil, and choose olive oil that smells and tastes vibrant and lively, while paying attention to mouth feel, i.e. we should prefer those that are crisp and clean to greasy.
When tasting the olive oil, the best olive oil is bitter, pungent, and burns the back of our throat.
If you are not given the opportunity to smell and taste the olive oil, ask the suppliers some questions or look for information such as how, where and by whom the olive oils were made.
Alternatively, buy from a trusted producer who has consistently received good reviews, or a distributor who is committed to bringing in quality extra virgin olive oil to the consumers.
TIP #6 – Purchase Olive Oil that is Useful for the Culinary Purposes
When choosing an olive oil, it all boils down to usage – what do we want to do with it? Use it raw, as a seasoning, or for frying?
There is a misconception that extra virgin olive oil cannot be used for everyday cooking and frying. That is not correct. Please refer to the table below for the smoke points of various oils/fats.
Extra virgin olive oil is a fine choice for sautéing and low to medium temperature frying not exceeding 190°C – or higher if it has a lower acidity.
Delicate and mild extra virgin olive oil is an excellent choice for everyday cooking and frying because its flavour will not overpower the food we prepare.
Consider using vegetable, seed oils or pure or extra light olive oils, which are tasteless, for deep frying over 220°C.
Extra virgin olive oil from early harvest can have intense flavour and strongly or moderately bitter and pungent, while the late harvest is typically mild with ripe fruity flavour.
As a general rule, olive oils with a strong flavour suit strongly flavoured dishes, and mild oils are used in dishes which are delicately flavoured – this simple guide should be of help when we are making our purchase decision.
|TYPE OF OIL||SMOKE POINT (TEMPERATURE)|
|Rice Bran Oil||254ºC|
|Pure/Extra Light Olive Oil (refined)||242ºC|
|Olive Pomace Oil (refined)||238ºC|
|Vegetable Oil (Palm Olein & Soybean) (super refined)||235ºC|
|Sunflower Oil (refined)||227ºC|
|Grapeseed Oil (refined)||216-220ºC|
|Canola Oil (refined)||204ºC|
|Extra Virgin Olive Oil (unrefined)||190-210ºC|
|Coconut Oil (Expeller-pressed virgin, unrefined)||177ºC|
Reference Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoke_point
REMEMBER: Three things make extra virgin olive oil superior to vegetable oils and a suitable substitute for butter and margarine in almost any recipe: taste, nutrition and integrity.
TIP #7 – Know the Olive Varietals
Extra virgin olive oils do not taste and smell alike – the taste and aroma depend on the varietals used in the extraction.
For example, Picual tends to have more body, with a slightly bitter taste and a hint of wood.; Picudo is sweet, and the flavour is soft, with an exotic fruit aftertaste. Hojiblanca has slight sweet taste in the beginning, a slight bitter taste of unripe fruits, and an almond aftertaste.
Moreover, we must know that early harvest extra virgin olive oil does not taste and smell the same as the late harvest.
Early harvest extra virgin olive oil tends to be spicy, bitter and pungent with a flavour note of grass, green, or green leaf.
We will often use it uncooked as it has the most health-enhancing and heart-healthy phytonutrients.
Late harvest extra virgin olive oil is produced using ripe olives. Therefore, it has a light, mellow taste with little or no bitterness and spiciness, often sweet, and more floral flavour. On the other hand, it also has lower antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.
When buying extra virgin olive oil, read the label for the olive varietals used to make the oil. If you can’t find it, look for it on the product web page. If none of these places make it available, think twice before you buy.
Here are additional tips for your reference:
- When choosing bottled olive oil, we should prefer dark glass or those that come with a container such as a gift box that serves to protect the oil against light.
- Buy a quantity (250ml, 500ml or 750ml) that you will use up quickly, and remember to keep it in a cool dark place. It is alright to buy excess trusted extra virgin olive oils if the opportunity arises so long you keep them unopened and store them away from light and heat.
- An excellent olive oil can rapidly go rancid when left sitting under a half-bottle of air, or in hot or brightly-lit conditions. When the bottle is opened, use it up within one month or two. Beyond that period, it will lose its freshness over time.
- When we are looking for a healthy extra virgin olive oil, look for one that has high polyphenol counts – with numbers below 200 being low and the taste hence mild, and above 400 being high and the taste becomes bitter, peppery or both. polyphenol is natural antioxidants.
- It is the monounsaturated fat (Omega-9) that is making extra virgin olive oil healthy. Look for a number that is around 70% to be ideal, though the range could be from 55 % to 80%.
KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING
Extra virgin olive oil is expensive, so know what you are buying.
There are many fake or adulterated olive oils out there. Taste and smell test the extra virgin olive oil for its flavour and aroma if you are new to the brands before you part away with your hard-earned money.
Do note that smell and taste test is rather subjective – each one smells and tastes things differently. One good example to illustrate this concept is the smell and taste of a durian, be it D24 or Cat Mountain King (猫山王) – some love it so much, while others smell chemical or a potent stench.
Most of the great extra virgin olive oils may not come from supermarket. Expensive oils from the boutique shops may not be that affordable, and normally they are beyond the reach of many.
You don’t have to dig deep in your wallet to get good quality if you know where to shop for the right olive oil.
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Photo Credit: Flickr. Ryan O’Connell. “Olives ready to be pressed.” CC License.